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More for less: municipalities still facing tough policing costs

In February 2014, the London Free Press published an article with the headline, Small municipalities across Ontario crushed by soaring OPP policing costs.

A year later, the Ontario government, along with the OPP introduced a new billing model it thought would be fairer to all municipalities. It’s still currently being phased in until next year.

Today, three years after the new billing was introduced, that exact headline could still apply, but the municipalities affected may be different.

Costs up

According to a 2014 report from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the billing reform came after the province’s Auditor General highlighted the “extreme variability” between police costs in the province.

You don’t need to look too far to see an example of that variability.

In 2009, Champlain Township paid just over $1 million for police, while Hawkesbury paid nearly $3.1 million. That meant it was about $276 per household in Champlain and $545 in Hawkesbury.

To be fair, this difference is close when compared to other communities in Ontario. The London Free Press article outlined some municipalities were paying nearly $1,000 per household, while others were paying less than $10.

In 2017, Champlain paid $1.4 million, while Hawkesbury paid $2.98 million. That means the cost per household has gone up $100 in Champlain and dropped in Hawkesbury by about $45 since the new billing model was introduced.

Revenues down

These growing costs are somewhat offset by grants through the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) and revenues from the Provincial Offences Act, mainly traffic infractions.

However, both of these sources of revenue have been consistently decreasing.

For Champlain, the OMPF grant has dropped more than $550,000 since 2009, from $1.62 million to $1.06 million. More of that money is going towards OPP but the net costs continue to grow.

As for the POA revenues, this has been an issue for mayors at the United Counties of Prescott and Russell for years.

In the past five years from 2013 to 2017, those revenues have gone down from $2.4 million to $1.7 million. Whatever revenues are generated from traffic infractions go to the UCPR and are then redistributed to the lower-tier municipalities.

In Champlain’s case, these revenues dropped about $80,000 in that time, from $144,000 to $64,700.

“This is why we’ve had very high tax increases in the last years,” says Paula Knudsen, Champlain’s CAO and treasurer.

The combined lost revenue between 2017 and 2018 alone from the OMPF grant and POA is an estimated $89,000. Plus the OPP costs went up about $35,000. These three factors combine for a $124,000 difference. In Champlain’s $5.8 million levy, that represents a loss of about two per cent, which needs to be recouped.

“We start the year off before we’ve done anything with a decrease in revenues,” says Knudsen. “This has been going on year after year.”

She adds that about 25 per cent of the municipality’s levy is dedicated to covering policing costs.

OPP response

The biggest change to the OPP billing model is the separation of costs. Rather than rely heavily on calls for service, there is now a category of “base costs” which include things like normal patrolling and RIDE programs. These base costs make up about 60 per cent of the bill while calls for service cover the rest.

According to Constable Mario Gratton of Hawkesbury OPP, those calls for service keep going up every year.

In 2015, the first year with the new cost ratios, the UCPR heard from local OPP detachment commanders at the time that the agency was not supposed to be relied upon as a source of revenue and other external factors were contributing to the decrease in POA money.

One of those factors was the loss of a dedicated Traffic Management Officer (TMO), according to Gratton. From 2005-2015, he says there was funding for an officer solely dedicated to traffic management.

However, numbers show the number of infractions (and therefore revenues) have been going down since 2012 with the worst coming in 2016. That year, Gratton says Hawkesbury OPP specifically had many officers either go on leave or were relegated to light duty.

Seeing the trend, Gratton says last year the detachment took on the responsibility of bringing back a position dedicated to traffic. Indeed, there was a slight increase in the number of tickets handed out last year but it’s still nearly 7,500 fewer than in 2012 and about $1.1 million less in revenue.

Other officers who are not responding to calls or doing paperwork are also doing traffic enforcement, says Gratton.

Alain Potvin of Russell OPP, the other detachment which covers Prescott-Russell, says it has also created a TMO-esque position. But both Gratton and Potvin say that unlike the original TMO, officers are often called away from traffic if there are more pressing matters.

So, more calls means higher costs and more strain on local officers working with fewer resources. OPP costs may be evening out across municipalities—indeed the comparison between Champlain and Hawkesbury bears this out.


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